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The Brazilian Federal Constitution has established the right for free public education up to post-graduate level so most public universities only charge a registration fee for students. Most higher education institutions in Brazil are run by the federal government, the state government or the municipal government. Federal and state institutions are generally known as ‘universities’ and tuition is free, while municipal governments tend to run smaller institutions that sometimes charge tuition fees.

Private higher education institutions are primarily university centers or integrated faculties and charge wide-ranging fees depending on the degree programs offered. Private tuition fees can cost from around US$2000 to over $10,000 per year. Despite this, public universities are usually viewed as offering the best quality education. There are nearly ten candidates for every place in public universities, while in private universities the ratio is less than two-to-one.

Financial aid to study in Brazil

Brazil’s higher education funding has grown, particularly in recent years – the Brazilian government now offers a limited number of tuition grants for poorer students to attend private universities. This does not apply to international students, so if you do need financial assistance, it will be easier to secure funding with a home-based organization in your country of origin.

Entrance examinations for universities in Brazil

All prospective candidates to a private or public university in Brazil must take an entrance examination, similar to the SAT or ACT test in the US. Before signing up, you’ll need to choose the university and degree program you are interested in, as each university runs its own exam. Depending on the university, you’ll need to take the “Vestibular” exam, the ENEM exam or both.

The Vestibular exam includes many of the subjects covered in high school including mathematics, sciences, history, geography, literature, Portuguese and a foreign language (candidates can usually choose between English, Spanish and French). The specific questions you will need to answer depend on the degree program for which you are applying – law students will likely be tested on history, geography and mathematics while medical school students might get biology, chemistry and geography.

A fairly new national secondary school exam known as Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM) is used by some universities in the place of the Vestibular. Sometimes the ENEM may replace only the first qualifying section of the Vestibular. ENEM results can be used as part of the final overall grade in the Vestibular. A few public universities (such as USP and UNICAMP) have chosen not to use ENEM grades at all – basing their admission criteria on the Vestibular exam only.

Applying to universities in Brazil

Managed by the Ministry of Education (MEC), a national university application system known as SISU (Sistema de Seleção Unificada) is used by public higher education institutions in order to offer vacancies for candidates who have taken the ENEM. You’ll need to register on the SISU site when its selection process starts (held twice a year at the beginning of the semester) using your ENEM registration number and password. Once registered, the system will inform you of any additional documents and/or admissions requirements you must fulfill before being able to apply to your chosen university.

You can then proceed to choose your options among the vacancies offered by the participating institutions. You can change your options during the registration period but must finalize your decision before the end of this period. The system then automatically selects the best ranked candidates in each course according to their overall ENEM grade.

Universities that have not joined SISU (such as UNIFESP, UFRJ, UFMG and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)) have their own independent exams. These exams are usually their own version of the Vestibular exams, and may be used in conjunction with the national ENEM.

Due to Brazilian initiatives to promote access to education for students with socioeconomic disadvantages, many universities in Brazil have racial quotas and quotas for students whose secondary education was spent entirely in a publicly funded school. As such, some students may be given extra points in their admissions test if they agree to receive this advantage based on either of the factors mentioned.

Proficiency in Portuguese

All prospective international undergraduate students applying to study in Brazil must be able to prove their proficiency in Portuguese, to be able to study in the language and take the admissions examinations. This is assessed by the Certificado de Proficiência em Língua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros (CELPE-Bras). The CELPE-Bras is offered in Brazil and countries such as the US, Germany, Chile and Japan with the support of the Brazilian Ministry of International Relations (MRE). You can register for the CELPE-Bras online in February, March, August or September.

Brazilian visa requirements

Most international students will need to obtain a visa to study in Brazil. You can do so through the Consulate General of Brazil (Consulado Geral Do Brazil) in your home country. Student visas are issued for one year and can be renewed.

Visas usually take around two to three months to be processed, so make sure you allow plenty of time before the start of your course. You can fill in the visa application form online. To complete the Brazilian visa requirements, you will then need to send a printed and signed receipt to your nearest Brazilian consulate along with the following documents, or go to the consulate in person:

  • Passport valid for six months after the end of your course
  • Copy of birth certificate (may or may not be required)
  • Two printed and signed visa application forms (Pedido de Visto) which will be stamped by the Consulate General
  • Two passport-size photos
  • Copy of a letter of acceptance from a Brazilian institution recognized by the MEC. Letter should include the length of the course, number of hours per lesson and number of lessons per week. The signature on the letter must be legalized by a Notary (Tabelião) in Brazil.
  • Certificate of prosecution/conviction history issued in the last 3 months
  • Proof of sufficient funds/financial support for the duration of your stay
  • Medical examination results – depending on your country of origin you may also need to get a yellow fever vaccination (you’ll be given a vaccination card which you’ll need for your visa application)
  • Receipt of payment of the consular fee for visa processing

You will also need to submit your academic transcripts to the Conselho Estadual de Educação, the educational institution located in each Brazilian state, which will authorize recognition of foreign education certificates.

You must enter Brazil within 90 days from the date the visa is issued. When you get to Brazil you’ll need to register with your local branch of the Federal Police (Polícia Federal) within 30 days of your arrival – you’ll be charged a tax for each day of delay after these 30 days and it may harm your chances of applying for a visa renewal or extension later on.

Police registration is necessary order to formalize your stay and to get an ID card for foreigners. You must present your passport, student visa, copy of the letter given to you by your university, and your consular fee receipt. You need to pay for this card using a special form given to you by the Federal Police. You must also use the Federal Police department to apply for a visa renewal – at least 30 days before your visa expiration date.

As a student visa holder, you may also apply for a visa for accompanying family members to join you while you study in Brazil, but neither they nor you are allowed to work in Brazil. You will also need to purchase private health insurance – either before you leave your home country (which will be easier) or when you get to Brazil (with the assistance of your institution’s Office of International Affairs/Assessoria De Relações Internacionais who are responsible for foreign students).

Make sure to hold on to your Embarkation/Disembarkation card, which you will fill in, sign and get stamped by the immigration officer at the airport. You will need to give it back to an immigration officer when leaving Brazil so they can record your departure.

How to study in Brazil?

Brazil has a number of excellent schools and universities. In fact, universities account for more than three-quarters of the higher education system. Courses can last anywhere between two and six years, depending on the content. The education system differs slightly from other countries and prospective students will need to research the corresponding value of the degrees and diplomas in their home countries before committing to these. 

Brazilia’s Higher Education System in International Comparison

In this section, we highlight the overall performance of Brazilian universities on the institutional level per U-Multirank dimension. The table below shows the national breakdown of Brazilian universities and how they stand across the spectrum of above average (receiving a score of ‘A’ (very good) or ‘B’ (good)), versus below average (receiving a score of ‘D’ (below average) or ‘E’ (weak)). In doing so, U-Multirank offers a clear picture on the country’s strengths and areas for improvement.

It becomes apparent that in general Brazilia’s higher education institutions perform strongest in U-Multirank’s teaching & learning, regional engagement and research dimensions.

How much does it cost to study in Brazil?

The Brazilian Federal Constitution has established the right for free public education up to post-graduate level so most public universities only charge a registration fee for students. Most higher education institutions in Brazil are run by the federal government, the state government or the municipal government. Federal and state institutions are generally known as ‘universities’ and tuition is free, while municipal governments tend to run smaller institutions that sometimes charge tuition fees.
Private higher education institutions are primarily university centers or integrated faculties and charge wide-ranging fees depending on the degree programs offered. Private tuition fees can cost from around US$2000 to over $10,000 per year. Despite this, public universities are usually viewed as offering the best quality education. There are nearly ten candidates for every place in public universities, while in private universities the ratio is less than two-to-one.

What are the entry requirements for Brazilian universities?

All prospective candidates to a private or public university in Brazil must take an entrance examination, similar to the SAT or ACT test in the US. Before signing up, you’ll need to choose the university and degree program you are interested in, as each university runs its own exam. Depending on the university, you’ll need to take the “Vestibular” exam, the ENEM exam or both.

The Vestibular exam includes many of the subjects covered in high school including mathematics, sciences, history, geography, literature, Portuguese and a foreign language (candidates can usually choose between English, Spanish and French). The specific questions you will need to answer depend on the degree program for which you are applying – law students will likely be tested on history, geography and mathematics while medical school students might get biology, chemistry and geography.

A fairly new national secondary school exam known as Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM) is used by some universities in the place of the Vestibular. Sometimes the ENEM may replace only the first qualifying section of the Vestibular. ENEM results can be used as part of the final overall grade in the Vestibular. A few public universities (such as USP and UNICAMP) have chosen not to use ENEM grades at all – basing their admission criteria on the Vestibular exam only

Do I need a Student Visa for Brazil?

Most international students will need to obtain a visa to study in Brazil. You can do so through the Consulate General of Brazil (Consulado Geral Do Brazil) in your home country. Student visas are issued for one year and can be renewed. 
Visas usually take around two to three months to be processed, so make sure you allow plenty of time before the start of your course. You can fill in the visa application form online.

HOW TO APPLY

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